The Place: La Barca Restaurant, 2414 S Vermont Avenue., Los Angeles, (323) 735-6567.
The Hours: 10:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Sun.-Thu.; 10:30 a.m.-11 p.m. Fri.-Sat.
The Deals: Three-dollar margaritas on Tuesday afternoons.
The Digs: La Barca has an identity problem. A sit-down Mexican restaurant, it boasts ample, leather-coated booths. The lighting is low and the air inside cool, antidotes to the swish of traffic and blinding light and heat waiting beyond the door. Nachos, burritos, tacos, and tostadas fill the menu. They can be ordered individually or collected on combination platters topped with rice and soupy beans. The food isn't spectacular but one understands the appeal, however limited. La Barca also sells margaritas for $3 apiece on Tuesday afternoons, offering strawberry, banana, and peach renditions as well as the standard. Given the affordability of said margaritas and the restaurant's proximity to USC, La Barca, an eatery by design, not a bar, is asking for trouble.
The Verdict: Trouble comes in the form of customers who drink hard and eat little — often nothing save the complimentary chips and salsa, perhaps a bowl of guacamole. You'd think the restaurant would be very happy that teachers, college students, police officers, and a shocking number of parents pushing small plastic strollers fill up the booths during that typically barren time between the lunch and dinner rushes, but you don't really get that sense. It's almost as if the restaurant isn't sure it wants customers to come for $3 margaritas. Maybe the special, advertised on the restaurant's Facebook page and elsewhere across the Internet, should be phrased less encouragingly, the way your friends might send out invitations for parties they didn't really want to throw in the first place. “Come over,” such missives usually read, adding, in so many words, “but BYOB and don't stay past midnight, try to crash on the couch, or expect me to let you leave without cleaning up first.”
At La Barca, beginning at about 3:30 p.m. on Tuesdays, the hostess valiantly fights the tide. Even when every table in the center of the restaurant is unoccupied, she'll make you wait to sit down and start funneling. She won't seat you until your whole party arrives, so good luck trying to slip in a quick pre-gamer before your bros show up. The tiny waiting area at the front of the restaurant will be packed tighter than a jar of pickles, but she won't budge. Once you do sit down, a server will swing by and ask for your food order every three minutes. Then, once your goblet is but a tide-pool of froth, he will appear to have evaporated.
The picture we paint may sound discouraging. After all, the margaritas themselves are sweet and slushy, nothing you can't best at home with some decent tequila and a batch of simple syrup. At the same time, they are $3.